Calls for vaping products to be regulated separately from traditional tobacco products in South Africa

Many smokers have turned to vaping to quit nicotine addiction. File image.

Many smokers have turned to vaping to quit nicotine addiction. File image.

Published Apr 16, 2022


Johannesburg - Vaping organisations have again pleaded with government to allow products to be regulated separately from traditional tobacco products.

With government yet to make a decision on how vaping will be regulated, vape organisations are doing all they can to convince government to allow for separate regulations.

Consumer advocacy group Vaping Saved My Life (VSML) has launched a campaign to help educate consumers on the benefits of vaping, and to address myths associated with it.

They have also created an online petition to support the campaign, calling for vaping products to be regulated separately from traditional tobacco products in South Africa.

So far , the campaign has garnered around 4,500 signatures since its launch in mid February.

However the consumer advocacy group is hoping to gain far more support from South Africans in the upcoming months.

“We have garnered around 4500 signatures which must be said is far below our desired goal,” said Kurt Yeo, founder of VSML.

“However, this poor outcome is indicative of what the typical South African feels with regard to being heard by our government. This was evident in the recent municipal election with a historical low in voter turnout.

“Furthermore, a petition in 2020 was hosted on which saw more than 650 000 signatures in support of having the now-infamous tobacco sales ban lifted failed to persuade the lifting of the restriction, is still fresh in the memory of this section of society, and further entrenched the belief that government just does not care.”

“Unfortunately, the outcome of the protracted ban saw the unprecedented growth of the illicit cigarette trade, creating a lose-lose scenario.”

“VSML still believes that petitions and public participation is critical in drafting appropriate regulations and policies, and will continue engaging through these means and others. The vaping consumer (mostly ex-smokers) needs to be heard.”

Picture by Robert F. Bukaty.

As part of the campaign, the advocacy group has also collaborated with a handful of smokers on social media who have chosen to explore a different lifestyle, and are participating in a 90-Day Challenge to quit smoking and take up vaping.

The participants have been documenting their real-life experience on Facebook and Twitter, while encouraging the vaping community to sign the petition calling for vaping products to be regulated separately from tobacco products.

Yeo said the advocacy group decided on launching the campaign to address several issues surrounding vaping.

“The campaign is striving to address several points: Highlighting the fact that although not completely risk-free, vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking. This is important as it is well understood that the majority of long-term smokers fail repeatedly at quitting and resign to their fate of serious disease and or premature death.

“Vaping could provide these users with a far less harmful alternative and provide them with an opportunity to escape smoking-related diseases.”

FILE PHOTO: Flavored vaping products are seen in a store in Los Angeles.

The campaign also calls for government to exclude e-cigarettes/vaping from the proposed 2018 Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill.

“Vaping is not tobacco and fetches a much lower risk profile and therefore should be seen differently,” said Yeo.

“We are not calling for the complete scrapping of e- cigarette/vaping regulations. On the contrary, we welcome regulations that need to be based on up to date credible scientific evidence.

“South Africa has a proud history in harm reduction. VSML believes this needs to be extended into the tobacco sphere if we are to realise non-communicable disease/public health targets.”

He says he also hopes that the campaign will assists in helping to wipe away negative sentiments about vaping.

“For far too long negative sentiment and bias have dominated our news waves on the topic of vaping, with little to no balance, with hundreds of thousands of ex-smokers in South Africa (millions across the world) who have managed to switch and even quit completely left out of the discussion.”

“VSML believes that these success stories need to be heard and should be deemed as important when drafting policies.”

Picture by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni.

Asanda Gcoyi, CEO of Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) believes it would be disastrous if vaping products aren’t regulated separately from tobacco products.

“This would be a tragic outcome for smokers unfortunately,” said Gcoyi.

“It would essentially mean that smokers who wish to explore alternatives are not given the correct information to make an informed choice about different nicotine products.

“It would also confirm combustible tobacco as the sole viable option for smokers to get their nicotine. It is important to emphasise that neither the vaping industry nor smokers are calling for a free reign for vaping products. However, we do call for regulation which allows the vaping industry to distinguish itself from combustible tobacco, whilst discouraging non-smokers from taking up vaping, as these products are meant for current nicotine users.

“Unfortunately, insisting only on the protection of non-smokers will come at the expense of smokers who are desperately in need of potentially less harmful alternatives to tobacco.”

Gcoyi also confirmed that VPASA has been in communication with government around the regulation of vaping, however the engagements have been disappointing.

“We’ve been engaging government, with the last formal engagement in May 2021 with the Department of Health. That was the second engagement since the proposed bill was first published in 2017. However, we were disappointed to learn that our submissions were not taken into account and the socio-economic impact assessment report had not changed from 2017.”

“Obviously this was (and still is) problematic for us because so much has changed from the first publication of the draft bill to where we are now. The Department of Health unfortunately does not respond to to requests for information update, status of the draft bill or anything related to the proposed bill.”

While hopeful that vaping will be separately regulated in South Africa, Gcoyi admits her concern about governments views towards vaping.

“We are of the view that a proper assessment of the scientific evidence on vaping will compel government and the anti-tobacco movement, to pause and reflect on the opportunity that vaping presents for the fight against the harms caused by smoking.

“However, responses from government have, thus far, been very antagonistic towards vaping. Most of this antagonism seems to be based on a deliberate misrepresentation of the harms of vaping and selective reading of scientific literature.

“From what we can tell, government’s position at this point is motivated by an absolutist view which seems to favour no distinction between these two very different nicotine products. In a sense, government does not seem to embrace tobacco harm reduction, despite the fact that the even the WHO includes harm reduction within its definition of tobacco control.”

Picture by Nathan Salt from Pexels.

Gcoyi says that all they want is for South Africa to get legislation that allows consumers to choose potentially less-harmful alternatives to cigarettes.

“Insisting on categorising tobacco and electronic vapour products (EVPs) under one umbrella gives the impression that they are equally harmful to one’s health. However, as research by reputable international organisations such as Public Health England, the Royal College of Physicians, the US Academy of Sciences, Cancer Research UK etc shows, vaping is up to 95% less harmful than smoking.”

He says that lumping the two together is likely to perpetuate the false perception that they are the same, when in fact, they are not.

“Such a perception is likely to discourage many smokers who do not wish to quit from considering vaping as an alternative source of nicotine, thus continuing their harmful addiction to combustible tobacco. Vaping does not contain tobacco.”

Gcoyi said VPASA was doing all it can to raise awareness on all things vaping.

“We’ve been engaging different stakeholders with the view of educating them and raising awareness on all things vaping. We recognise that not enough is known about vaping so our goal is to empower those stakeholders who will ultimately determine how we are regulated.

“We also send recent studies to stakeholders on a regular basis to ensure that they too are kept in the loop on recent scientific developments in this area.”

The Saturday Star